Monday, March 21, 2011

Mormon Murder Musings

By Mister Curie

My intention in posting news links yesterday was not because I was trying to make a point about Mormonism, homosexuality, religion, etc.  I posted them because I am in shock at the news.  These are actual people that I have attended church with, talked to, and prayed with. I spent the day reflecting and sifting through ward gossip.

Neither individual, murderer or murdered, is a product of Mormonism.  John Thomas converted to the church a couple of years ago.  I was struck with the intensity of his passion for the church.  I first met John Thomas when he was an investigator with the missionaries.  I was walking home from work one evening and he street contacted me, asking me if I had ever heard of the Book of Mormon.  He shared his testimony of the Book of Mormon with me and how meeting the missionaries had changed his life and of his excitement to be baptized.  He had moved from one religion to another, searching for the truth, which he felt he had finally found.  I felt a bit inadequate after meeting him, as here was someone who was so excited about the Gospel that he was willing to share it with complete strangers, while I had a difficult time even sharing it with friends and coworkers.  After being baptized he was constantly trying to share the gospel  with his friends and complete strangers alike.

John Thomas gave off a little bit of a weird vibe, he seemed a little bit off.  His first testimony after being baptized was sincere and heart-felt, and filled with King James Bible phraseology.  But there wasn't anything in his conduct that ever made me think he was capable of murder.

John Thomas was good friends with Murray Seidman.  It was with the encouragement of John Thomas that Murray began to investigate the church.  They were often together and inseparable.  As new converts they were fellowshipped extensively by our ward.  I have a ward friend who had them both over for dinner shortly before the murder.  Murray also gave off a bit of a weird vibe, he was slow mentally, but seemed kind-hearted.  He had spent his young adulthood in a facility for mentally handicapped individuals, but was eventually able to get a job working in the laundry for a local hospital.  He worked there for 40 or so years before retiring.  He was not rich.  He had no assets that I know of (rented an apartment, no car, etc.) and was in retirement.

Sadly I did not know either of them in any more depth than the typical Mormon knows another ward member's life.  I was unaware, as the article points out, that they first met while Murray was working in the hospital laundry and John Thomas was a patient in the psych ward, before either were members of the church, as I understand it.  I didn't know that John Thomas was diagnosed with schizophrenia and needed to be medicated, which would explain some of the sense of oddness that things in his personal interactions were just a little off.

Just a few months ago, sometime that I believe was between the murder and the arrest, I ran into John Thomas again on the street.  It was dark and I was taking the garbage to the curb as the next day was trash day.  It was winter and being bundled up and in the dark, I didn't recognize him.  But he recognized me.  After walking past me, he turned around.  I suddenly felt a bit of adrenaline as a seeming stranger turned around and moved back toward me.  Then he said, "Hey! I go to church with you!"  Still not recognizing him, I asked his name.  "I'm John Thomas" he replied.  I suddenly felt at ease with the recognition of who it was.  We chatted briefly and somewhat awkwardly, then he moved to resume his journey, stating that he was going to a friend's house.

So it was with shock that I heard the news today from a ward friend that John Thomas was arrested for the murder of Murray Seidman.  And I was further shocked by the bizarre news of an Old Testament stoning for homosexuality.  Happily, as a society, we have largely moved to a higher morality than the stoning practiced in Old Testament times, and even the most religious among us fails to give serious heed to those biblical injunctions, regardless of how inerrant they view the bible.  I don't think this was a case of religion leading someone to believe they should murder.  This is a case of mental illness leading to a divorcement of mental capacities from rational thinking.  Another ward friend who was closer to John Thomas than I was, told me that John Thomas had decided to stop taking his medicine, believing he did not need it and that sincere prayer would be sufficient.  Apparently it was not.

I don't know that a rational motive can be established in this case, I think the actions were probably the result of a diseased mind.  The wealth motive rings hollow because Murray did not have any wealth or assets to speak of, but what wealth could a diseased mind conjure up?  The religious motives also do not reflect my experiences with the teachings of Mormonism or with current ethical interpretation of scriptural passages in any religious tradition, but what horrors can a diseased mind do with religion?

Schizophrenia and other mental illness often have a habit of latching on to extreme religious thoughts.  As a 1st year medical student, I remember visiting the psych ward and interviewing a schizophrenic patient with a small group of my classmates.  We sat down with the patient and asked his name.  "You know the bible?" he responded.  "The Beginning and the End. Alpha and Omega. That's me."

And so I  return  to the bizarre news that a Mormon  from my ward, who I knew as an odd but devout and sincere believer, has confessed to murdering another member of my ward by stoning to death for "unwanted homosexual advances".  I will probably never understand it because it is beyond understanding how the mind goes wrong in the diseased state and what horrors it can lead to. And yet I seek to understand and to find something more.  I understand the desire to find implications in the story for Mormonism, homosexuality, religion, etc. because I am seeking for them too.


  1. That just seems terrible.

  2. Wow! I heard the story on the news, but to know the background from one who really knows from the neighborhood point-of-view is simply incredible.

    Best of luck in processing all of this.

  3. Very interesting and (I believe) accurate insight. And interesting to know about my possible future ward (since my parents are sure to pass along my records).

  4. It is really bizarre.

    @Romulus - yeah, maybe best to not tell your bf about the ward, he might freak out.